The True Costs of Winning a Million Dollar Skeptic Challenge

By unwitting guest contributor Dean Radin, PhD…

How to Summon a Supernatural Dimwit

Let’s say we want to win a million dollar prize for rigorously demonstrating something psychic in a scientifically acceptable way.

One of the best candidates at present is the ganzfeld telepathy experiment…

A session typically takes about an hour for the two participants. For the investigator it takes another hour to prepare and to close down the session…

First, we do a power analysis to determine how many repeated sessions we have to run. Let’s say for a million dollars we are required to achieve results associated with odds against chance of a million to one. That seems like a reasonable criterion for success…

We’ll design an experiment that is run in three phases, where each phase has the same parameters: p(chance) = 0.25, p(hypothesis) = 0.32, alpha = 0.003, power = 0.99. This means that if we assume that telepathy gives us a hit rate of 32%, then if we run this experiment we’ll have a 99% chance of getting a final p-value of 0.003 or better, i.e. good evidence for telepathy.

The power analysis tells us that we need to run N = 1,147 trials to achieve this result. So now we will run this same experiment two more times, get a result each time at least as good as p = 0.003, and then the combined p-value over all three phases will be one in a million or better, or odds against chance of at least a million to one.

This requires that we run a total of 1147 x 3 = 3441 sessions.

Continue reading The True Costs of Winning a Million Dollar Skeptic Challenge

Derren Brown Investigates The Bronnikov Method

A Martial Development Meta-Investigation

I can see inside Vyacheslav Bronnikov’s head.

Not because I possess the disputed X-ray vision skills–though if I did, I would probably keep quiet about it. No, I’m just saying that I may understand what Bronnikov was thinking when he did what he did.

I should back up, and tell the tale from the start. Derren Brown is a renowned ‘psychological illusionist,’ a performer who combines magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship in order to seemingly predict and control human behavior. Imagine a younger, more talented, and more personable version of James Randi…

For the past ten years Derren has created TV and stage performances that have stunned audiences, debunked the paranormal and encouraged many to improve and enhance their own mental abilities. His first show appeared in 2000, Derren Brown: Mind Control, and followed with Trick of the Mind, Trick or Treat and a series of Specials including the controversial Russian Roulette and the hugely popular Events.

In the second episode of his latest television series, Darren Brown Investigates…, the illusionist set out to test The Bronnikov Method of human potential development. Created by Vyacheslav M. Bronnikov, this system–based in ancient Tibetan Yoga–promises to awaken dormant human skills and abilities, among them the ability to see while blindfolded, or indeed with no eyes at all.

Derren traveled to a Bronnikov seminar in Belgium, accompanied a woman who has been legally blind for more than a decade. As for what happened next… Continue reading Derren Brown Investigates The Bronnikov Method

Science and the Problem with Chi

Chi Gong: The Ancient Chinese Way to Health by Paul Dong and Aristide Esser

Chi theory is an ontology, in which it is pointless to declare one’s belief or disbelief prior to understanding. In this excerpt from Chi Gong: The Ancient Chinese Way to Health, author Bruce Holbrook addresses the root of the controversy, which is neither logic or science, but cultural impedance.

The concept of chi is confusing to Western readers, not because it is a difficult one, but because our own culture stands in the way.

Occidental civilization is based on certain religious and philosophical premises which invite false translation of chi and related concepts. For example, our philosophy forces a choice between two fundamental levels of reality, which in the Chinese worldview are but a single one. That historically recent epistemological expression of our civilization, science, forcefully fights against comprehension of a single reality. Through out this section, therefore, “science” and related terms such as “physical,” are used within quotation marks when they refer to Western concepts. This may promote correction of the false, but very widespread, ethnocentric assumption that Western science is the only form of science.

Our “science” is firmly based on inanimate models and data-recording devices, whereas chi (in the central sense of this book) is intimately related to distinctively animate phenomena and cultivated human sensing. An additional problem is that Western science–especially “medical science”–has become dogmatic, so that it rejects any logical conclusion which lies outside its paradigm. The prevailing attitude is: If we can’t deal with it on our terms, it does not exist, because only our terms are valid. Cultural anthropologists call such systematic ignorance “ethnocentrism”–being confined, unaware of the confinement, by one’s own culture.

Western scientists can describe in unparalleled detail a decline in metabolic energy and regenerative capacity, but as soon as they state or suggest that these are the causes of natural dying, they are refusing to answer the question at hand: How does a human die of natural causes?

Given such widespread ethnocentrism, it is only natural therefore that Western thinking beyond the scope of “science” has surrounded chi with a mystical aura, while “scientific thinking” has reduced and deformed the concept into something manageable on its own terms. Such terms are untrue to the original concept and reality of chi. Beyond that there is a natural difficulty with distinctions among different kinds of chi. This can give rise to the impression that Chinese thinkers indulged in unnecessary conceptual multiplication to compensate for their own weaknesses in natural scientific understanding. Nothing could be further from the truth. Continue reading Science and the Problem with Chi

Penn and Teller: Two Morons Learn Martial Arts

Penn & Teller: Bullshit

In a recent episode of their hit Showtime series, stage magicians Penn Jilette and Raymond Teller warn viewers away from the universally fraudulent field of martial arts. Now a real expert martial artist rescues us from their half-baked debunkings.

For their own convenience, Penn and Teller divide the world of martial arts into three categories: traditional, mystical, and murderous. Continue reading Penn and Teller: Two Morons Learn Martial Arts

On McDojos and Mob Justice

Sean Treanor’s article on the Bullshido phenomenon raises some important questions…

Martial arts practice in America is entirely unregulated. There is no central body that issues standards, no set of accepted practices, no communication between different styles. State and local governments have nothing to say about who is and isn’t a martial artist. After all, consumers are free to make their own decisions.

Unfortunately, it can be very hard to tell the difference between fantasy and reality when studying an ancient, esoteric and exotic discipline. Not many people have any idea what martial arts training should consist of. There is almost no agreement within the martial arts establishment over what is effective training and what is not.

Investigation is expensive and the market is too small to attract much media attention, aside from cinematic mythmaking. The mainstream martial arts magazines have never made investigative journalism part of their repertoire. George Dillman, the mental KO king was Black Belt Magazine’s instructor of the year in 1997. There is simply no money in exposing these martial arts entrepreneurs. Some people, however, are willing to do it for free.

Continue reading On McDojos and Mob Justice

Skepticism in Theory and Practice: A CSI Case Study

After reading my previous articles on Mesmerism, James Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge and related subjects, some visitors have expressed skepticism over my meta-skepticism. Why am I so skeptical of skeptics?

Actually, I do respect philosophical skepticism, the frequently claimed pedigree of modern scientific skeptics.

Philosophical skepticism is both a philosophical school of thought and a method that crosses disciplines and cultures. Many skeptics critically examine the meaning systems of their times, and this examination often results in a position of ambiguity or doubt. [It] is an old movement with many variations, and contrasts with the view that at least one thing is certain. Indeed, for Hellenistic philosophers, claiming that at least one thing is certain makes one an [irrational] dogmatist. ~Wikipedia

Spray cheez

The relationship between philosophical and popular (“scientific”) skepticism is roughly analogous to the relationship between Cheese and Cheez. Continue reading Skepticism in Theory and Practice: A CSI Case Study

“Empty Force” and No-Touch Knockouts Real? Take Our Survey

Many martial arts bloggers (Striking Thoughts, Mokuren Dojo and Dojo Rat to name a few) have published their opinions on the veracity of chi projection, empty force (ling kong jing) and no-touch knockouts. Naturally, I have a few opinions of my own–but I do not intend to share them here and now. No, my purpose today is a humble and scientific one: to gather data.

The plural of anecdote is data, right? So, please take this multiple choice poll. Continue reading “Empty Force” and No-Touch Knockouts Real? Take Our Survey

The Rise and Fall of Mesmerism

The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine

The following passage is excerpted from “The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine” by Anne Harringtona recent addition to my recommended reading list.

The End of Medical Exorcism in Europe

Appreciating the interweaving religious, philosophical and political stakes [in 18th century medicine] is important, because it can help us make sense of an episode whose significance we might otherwise misinterpret: the showdown between the German exorcist Father Johann Joseph Gassner and the Viennese physician Anton Mesmer.

Johann Joseph Gassner

Gassner was an exorcist whose ability to cast out devils was legendary. People came from all over to be healed, and in dramatic public performances—witnessed by crowds from all sectors of society—Gassner would oblige. Official records were made; competent witnesses testified to the extraordinary happenings. All agreed on the basic facts. On being presented with a supplicant, Gassner would typically wave a crucifix over his or her body and demand in Latin that, if the disease he was seeing had a “preternatural” source, this fact must be made manifest. The patient would then typically collapse into convulsions, and Gassner would proceed to exorcise the offending spirit.

Sometimes he added flourishes to this basic routine: in one dramatic instance, for example, he ordered the demon inside a woman to increase the poor woman’s heartbeat and then to slow it down. Continue reading The Rise and Fall of Mesmerism

James Randi’s Million Dollar Hustle

In medical science, one must pay attention not to plausible theorizing, but to experience and reason together.
— Hippocrates

The James Randi Educational Foundation has not validated any extraordinary human ability; ergo, none is likely to exist.
— Anonymous crank

Are psi and other forms of mental kung fu real? Some research suggests that they are, but to properly evaluate the data, you need a solid background in experimental design, statistical probability, and the subject itself. Science is hard.

Supposition and common-sense appeals are easy, and unlike research data, they always support the desired outcome. A suitable bit of folk wisdom can be found to justify any emotional investment.

For example, if you want to master a difficult new skill, you’ll remember that practice makes perfect; later, if you become frustrated and finally give up, it is only because you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. This is all ex post facto rationalization—not reason, and certainly not science.

So belief and disbelief are not two poles on the spectrum of opinion, or two sides of the same coin. They are both on the same side of the coin. There is nothing inherently rational about a default to skepticism, it’s just another bias.

Maybe we can do better than that. Continue reading James Randi’s Million Dollar Hustle

Chi: Real Energy or Martial Art Myth?

Welcome to the third edition of Qigong and Energy Arts Forum. This main topic of this edition is science and skepticism.

Feature articleChi debunked? by Bob Patterson (Striking Thoughts)
Martial Development has a challenge for skeptical martial artists: Prove that chi is scientifically impossible. Naturally, since I consider myself to be an open-minded skeptic and a martial artist, I had to take a crack at this one.
From a scientific perspective, “chi” has not made it past the hypothesis stage…

Clearing the Air on George Dillman and Chris Thomas by Rick Fryer (Kicks Boxes)
Char-la-tan (n.) a person who pretends to be an expert in something or to have more skill that is really the case; quack; fake. That’s how Websters defines the word charlatan, but many martial artists on websites and forums like or would like to define it as ‘George Dillman,’ or as my instructor, ‘Chris Thomas’… Continue reading Chi: Real Energy or Martial Art Myth?